How to Become Jesus
Like Jesus, we began our Lenten journey in the desert confronting ha-satan: the ideas, people, habits, influences, and uncharitable actions (to both others and ourselves) that falsely convince us we are not God’s beloved children.
Satan’s desert challenges force us to reconnect to God, if only in fleeting visions that leave our hairs on edge. The solitude of the desert reminds us that we are not alone. Every human is connected through universes of cells in the all-being of God. And we are amazed, and we are changed.
Awareness of God as the metaphysical fabric of everything is transformative. Remember, the term meta refers to a thing's underlying structure, not the supernatural. The desert and Satan’s temptations awaken us to the idea that God is perfectly natural! Don’t underestimate the power of recognizing God as natural instead of supernatural. St. Francis loved that idea.
Natural God is the total sensory beauty of changing seasons. Natural God is the gently wafting hint of salt in the sea air, the towering power of 1000-year-old Redwoods, a baby’s laugh, the wind tussling your hair at the beach, in the mountains, forest, desert, suburban backyard and city street. Natural God is my neighbor and the stranger in need. Natural God is everything.
Once this idea of God as perfectly natural starts to creep into our consciousness, we see the world from a new point of view. Even nanosecond bursts of certain awe in God reveal a more profound reality beyond this world of bad news. Paul suggests we see our world in a mirror, dimly, and preaches an alternative to our bad news world: The Gospel of Jesus Christ—the good news of Jesus Christ.
Paul and I differ on what the good news actually is. For him, it is mainly about Jesus as a cosmic human sacrifice. For me, Jesus brings good news about the interconnection of God in, among, and through all things.
I’ve suggested that the transformation sequence in Luke 9.28-36 is an extended metaphor about human potential. Honestly, my take on the entire Jesus cycle is one of metaphor about human potential. Unlike Paul, who teaches we are all worthless, Jesus teaches that we are already exalted. God is good with us. We are the ones with authority issues.
I do think Paul understood the idea of Christ potential, that all of us, no matter how rich or poor, slave or free, male or female, etc., etc., have the innate ability to think and act like Jesus. In fact, Jesus insists that if we are serious about following him, we cannot help but live into our potential by simply first knowing that there’s nothing unnatural about believing in God. Then, once firm in that belief, we will be compelled to act just like Jesus in this world.
I think the author of Luke understood Jesus as an archetype, a harbinger of a new way to be human. Early followers of Jesus (called People of The Way) believed part of this transformation happened by being blessed by God, which they referred to as the Holy Spirit. Today, we might say we’ve had a “spiritual experience.”
Luke 4.16-30 (NRSV)
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” Jesus said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.
“But the truth is,” Jesus continued, “there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
As I was studying this passage recently, I realized I had misremembered it. This is a well-known passage, but for some reason, I always thought the crowd was outraged after Jesus declared he had fulfilled scripture. But, they aren’t. Notice that after he reads, then claims that “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” the crowd is amazed and appreciative, even complimentary!
But this just aggravates Jesus. He’s not there to receive their approval or be lauded with accolades. He’s there, as he is here now, to wake people up! The people in the synagogue make the same mistake as Paul: they are dazzled by Jesus’ light—his wisdom, his oratory, his sizzle. So they miss entirely the meat of his argument, which is that they are all hypocritical jerks, sitting in ivory towers pontificating the absurdity of their navels, while people starve in the streets.
Jesus’ interpretation of Isaiah is that we are all supposed to fulfill the law. This means endless intellectual study, yes, but that study is supposed to drive us to action. We are all to bring good news to the poor, support the brokenhearted, and most importantly, release and liberate the oppressed.
The crowd doesn’t get upset when Jesus says he has fulfilled Isaiah’s demands. They get upset when Jesus calls them out for ignoring the one rule God gave them: Love God by loving your neighbor.
Isaiah 61.1 (CEB)
The Lord God’s spirit is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me
to bring good news to the poor,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim release for captives,
and liberation for prisoners.
This passage is a demand for us to live better. Isaiah understands life as service to each other in the way God serves us: as the sustaining love of the universe. Jesus wants us to be, like him, the sustaining love of the universe. For me, that means we must rethink our relationship to Jesus and rather than bow down to him, become him. For there is no better way to honor one's master than to embody the master heart, mind, body, and soul. We do this by continually recognizing God within us. All of us. No exceptions.